Orange OR30 review: the loudest 30-watt amp on the planet?
In any case, it’s a new single-channel Orange head that’s made in the UK. But can the tones justify the price?
The OR line of Orange tube amps go all the way back to the very beginnings of the brand: the debut Orange ‘Matamp’ heads were designated as OR200s and OR100s. Since then, we’ve had OR120s, OR50s, OR80s, OR15s, a handful of reissues and reimaginings, and now: the OR30. Is the latest single-channel all-tube offering from Orange an anachronism or a modern classic?
The OR30 is, in design, not a massive departure for the OR range. There’s an abundance of tubes, including ones for the effects loop and the power rectification, a single channel and not a lot else.
Controls are barebones (presence, two switchable masters, gain, a three-band EQ and a bright switch), and there are no DI-outs, internal speaker loads or USB-C ports to be found. The only significant concession to modernity is the pleasingly-named ‘headroom/bedroom’ switch, which drops the output down to 2 watts for slightly less ear-shattering home practice.
This minimalist old-school vibe is, as far as we can tell, exactly the point of the OR range. Introducing the amp, you can tell that lead product designer Ade Emsley is mightily proud of the entirely bullshit-free OR30, and really, he should be. It’s great to see a UK-made single-channel tube amp hit the market so confidently, even as comments sections everywhere claim that tube amps are dead, and also why aren’t you just using modellers at this point?
Taking the OR30 out of its box, it’s clear the amp isn’t worried about competition from laptop-sized units with a billion settings. Thanks to a hefty output transformer, it’s pretty damn heavy at nearly 20 kilos, and while more compact than the average 100-watter, it’s still about twice the size of an OR15. This makes sense if you’ve got your basic multiplication down, but you can knock off ‘portable’ from the OR30’s list of selling points.
What it lacks in modern convenience, however, it makes up for in immediacy. Dialling in a good sound takes less time than the tubes do to warm up. Telecaster Deluxe into the front end. Every control at noon. We’re there already. From here, it’s just a case of refining how the preamp is working, mostly with the gain and presence controls. So let’s do that.
The gain control’s massive sweep means the OR30’s versatility is on par with two-channel amps, as it’s a totally different beast depending on where it’s set. The presence control has a broad, noticeable sweep and works to either soften or sharpen the amp as you like. And, as advertised, it does work independently of the master volume.
Clean sounds are great, if miles away from the scooped, bell-like ones you might get from a Fender: these are decidedly Orange cleans, with a little bit of that signature hairiness poking through in the mids. And, set clean and loud, you can certainly feel that tube-rectifier sag when you dig in.
With the gain up to noon, we’re already getting quite dirty, but there’s still room to manoeuvre with playing dynamics. This is probably the point at which the effects loop becomes essential for clear delay repeats – but it’s also where fuzzes and distortion pedals absolutely come into their own, not overblown but still offering plenty of aggressive bark.
Finally: let’s crank the gain to full. This isn’t a dynamic experience per se, but Jesus, it sure is a fun one, with a hilarious amount of distortion being conjured up from those preamp tubes.
The thick, throaty saturation can be tightened up a little with the presence and EQ, but the looseness is really what makes this amp tick for high-gain. It’s not always going to work for tight modern chugging, as it’s a little too hairy in the midrange, and a little too exuberant in the low end. But on its own terms, it’s a fantastic sound: play through the OR30 set to max for a while, and it’s easy to see why this brand is beloved by the stoner-doom crowd.
“Can you turn down a bit please, mate?”
Orange’s marketing for the OR30 proudly declared it could hit the same sort of sound pressure levels as a 100-watt head. We’re inclined to believe this claim, as this thing is ungodly loud: beyond noon on the master volume with the full 30 watts in play, you’ll be heard on the far side of Pluto.
Despite venues not really needing dBs like that anymore, there are some practical benefits to an amp that can get this loud. Firstly, the power amp will stay clean well beyond the point where a sound engineer is going to ask you to stop taking the piss and turn down a bit. And, that second master control is actually useful, as you’ll basically always have somewhere else to go with it for solos and the like.
Price per dB
Discussions of gigging practicality do, however, bring us to the elephant in the room that is the price. It’s $1,799, or £1,650. It’s important to take into consideration that it’s made in the UK, but our OR15 maths from earlier breaks down a bit here. That’s pretty pricey, and plenty of guitarists will find that hard to justify.
But in a way, the price just confirms what the weight and the volume of the thing had hinted at. Orange wasn’t trying to make an accessible, portable OR head for everyone, one you can still gig – it already has, and it’s called the OR15. If you’ve read this review excitedly, only to be put off by the price, definitely explore the OR15 instead – you likely won’t be disappointed.
On the other hand, looking at it from the perspective of the player who really loves the old-school Orange ‘thing’ and has some cash to spend, Orange has knocked it right out of the park with the OR30. It’s a worthy addition to the line, and if you have the cash and the room in the touring van, you’ll be exceptionally happy with this amp.